Last Updated: May 29, 2023, 12:47 IST
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed that countries who are willing “to join the Union State of Russia and Belarus” will be given nuclear weapons.
Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, made the comments during an interview on Sunday.
His statement comes days after Russia and Belarus signed a deal formalizing the deployment of Moscow’s tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. Lukashenko said the transfer of some tactical nuclear weapons from Russia to Belarus has begun.
“No one minds Kazakhstan and other countries having the same close relations that we have with the Russian Federation,” Lukashenko said in the interview, according to CNN.
“It’s very simple. Join the Union State of Belarus and Russia. That’s all: there will be nuclear weapons for everyone,” he added.
Lukashenko’s statement also comes amid reports that the Belarus President has been rushed to a hospital in Moscow and is said to be in critical condition after meeting Putin.
The claim was made by opposition leader Valery Tsepkalo, who said on Twitter that Lukashenko was rushed to the hospital following closed doors meeting with Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of the shorter-range weapons in Belarus earlier this year in a move widely seen as a warning to the West as it stepped up military support for Ukraine.
It is also unclear how many nuclear weapons would be stationed in Belarus. The US government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
Putin has said that Kremlin would retain control over the tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus.
Putin has argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States, noting that the US has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Belarus had no nuclear weapons on its territory since the 1990s. Soviet nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan were moved to Russia in a US-brokered deal after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Khrenin also announced plans to “build up the combat potential of the regional grouping of Russia and Belarusian troops,” including the transfer to Minsk of the Iskander-M missile system, capable of carrying a nuclear charge, and the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.
Russia and Belarus have an alliance agreement under which the Kremlin subsidizes the Belarusian economy, via loans and discounted Russian oil and gas. Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground for invading neighboring Ukraine and has maintained a contingent of troops and weapons there.